The biggest criticism of Sony's phones has been an adherence to a design that hasn't moved with the times. OmniBalance retained bezels, evolved into Loop Design - not that you'll have noticed - while remaining stoically monolithic.
Well now you can scrap all that, because Sony has truly changed its design ethos, with a new approach called Ambient Flow. What does that mean? Who knows? But importantly this Xperia is no longer a monolithic slab.
Xperia XZ2 shakes up Sony design
- 153 x 72 x 11.1mm, 198g
- IP65/68 waterproofing
- Ambient Flow design
- Gorilla Glass 5 front and rear
The Sony Xperia XZ2 replaces the XZ1 which barely had time to reach shelves, with its announcement in August 2017. You can forget all about the XZ1 though, because the XZ2 betters it in all areas, as a flagship phone should, announced alongside a mighty Xperia XZ2 Compact.
Not only is Sony embracing the 18:9 aspect display - meaning you're getting 13 per cent more screen in this handset - but there's a shift from traditional Xperia flat design too.
There's an aluminium core to this phone, a common feature of Xperia devices, but there's now a curve from the display front around to the rear; that rear is curved to fit into your hand, rather than being a slab of a device that bridges your palm.
You can liken it to any number of manufacturers - it's the same approach that LG or HTC has taken on recent devices, but we think the Xperia XZ2 looks closest to the HTC U11+. There's now a symmetry to Sony's phone, with the fingerprint scanner and camera taking a centreline on the rear.
Both the front and the rear are Gorilla Glass 5, with Sony saying that this is the strongest phone it has ever made, despite the overwhelming feeling being one of glass.
Someone at Sony seems to have been listening to the criticisms - this is a new direction of Sony Mobile, but rest assured, it's still waterproof with an IP65/68 rating.
Xperia XZ2 display: It's all about HDR
- 5.7-inch Full HD+ display
- 18:9 aspect
- HDR compatible and upscaling
Sony has long stuck to its guns about resolution: while it is one of the few manufacturers to offer a 4K display, Sony refuses to play in the "Quad HD" arena, arguing that there is no native Quad HD content, so you don't need it.
It's perhaps no surprise to discover that the Xperia XZ2 is a Full HD phone. But note that while this will be 1080p, the new 18:9 aspect pushes it out to 2160 x 1080 pixels. Is there any content in that aspect? Well no, but that doesn't really fit with Sony's design story - 18:9 is the latest trend in mobile and we embrace the move.
There are lots of good reasons for adopting an 18:9 display. It means you can fit more display into a phone without it getting too wide, so it's easy to grip. It also has the added benefit of banishing bezels and Sony knows all about that.
Since the original Xperia Z, Sony has had a healthy forehead and chin on its phones - that space to the top and bottom of the display - but that’s now reduced, for a fresher and more competitive look. Sony Mobile hasn't taken the XZ2 as far as the iPhone X or LG V30 in reducing bezels, nor does it take on the curved edges of Samsung's Infinity Display - as found on the new Galaxy S9 - so there's still some bezel to the left and right of this display.
Compare that to Sony's mid-range devices in the Xperia XA2 and you could say that although this is a big shift for Sony Mobile, it could have been a little bigger and in some ways, the XA2's edge-to-edge display carries an elegance that the XZ2 lacks.
Aside from aspect and resolution, this is an LCD display and HDR is a big part of Sony's story in the XZ2. This display not only supports mobile HDR content, but it will also upscale content to HDR-like quality using X-Reality.
That should result in more realistic colours with a wider gamut, as well as giving you more realistic contrast - darker shadows with detail, increasingly brilliant highlights, but also smooth gradation between the too.
First impressions are good, although we've not used the Sony Xperia XZ2 for long enough to really appreciate this display's pros and cons. We've seen some content comparisons in both SDR and HDR, but we're yet to have the opportunity to see whether this HDR upscaling is beneficial.
It will, however, apply to anything - existing videos, content you stream and so on.
Sony Xperia XZ2 hardware specs
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, 4GB RAM
- 64GB storage + microSD
- USB Type C
- 3180mAh battery, Qi wireless charging
Sony is right on the pulse of new hardware in 2018: the Xperia XZ2 launches with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, one of a clutch of new devices to do so. We've looked at this new Snapdragon and we know it offers performance gains over the older (and very good) Snapdragon 835.
But the biggest part of the hardware story isn't about Qualcomm's own hardware - that's going to be in numerous other devices too - but how Sony has adapted and customised it. Sony developed an image signal processor with Qualcomm that's designed specifically for the Xperia camera.
Sony says that this gives the XZ2 camera some of the power it needs to better process images, improving colour, contrast and reducing noise. We'll talk about the camera in the next section, but it's a big part of Sony's play.
Moving on to the other hardware features, there's 64GB storage with support for microSD and there's a USB Type-C on the bottom of the phone, as well as support for Qi wireless charging.
There's a 3180mAh battery which sounds reasonable, but we've no idea at this time what the endurance will be like.
The fingerprint scanner is now on the rear of the phone, but the location is a little weird. We're sure you'll get used to it, but it feels a little low, so you might have to shuffle the phone up to unlock it. The impact of that remains to be seen - if you thought the placement of the Galaxy S9 scanner wasn't ideal, then this might have go too far in distancing itself from the camera.
There's also no 3.5mm headphone socket. Yes, Sony has followed another industry trend and ditched that venerable old connector. We're sure some will mourn its passing while awaiting USB Type-C headphones worth buying, but with Sony also making some of the best Bluetooth headphones available, we're sure you'll find an alternative. Or a dongle.
Xperia XZ2 camera: 4K HDR capture
- 19-megapixel Motion Eye camera
- 4K HDR video capture
- 960fps super slow-motion in Full HD
- Image stabilisation
That's right, the big message here is that the Sony Xperia XZ2 is the first smartphone to give you 4K HDR video capture. Wait what? Yes, HDR capture is only just making its way into high-end cameras, but Sony has stepped forward to offer this visually-boosted video to everyone.
It leans on that custom ISP co-developed with Qualcomm that we mentioned earlier, giving you a 10-bit hybrid log gamma video at the end of it. What does all that mean? Well, the format it's capturing is HLG - the format the BBC is investigating for broadcast HDR - and widely supported by just about all TV manufacturers.
You'll need a 10-bit display to view the video you capture (essentially, you'll need an HDR-compatible TV) but increasing the bit depth means more data to ensure that colours are more accurate and there's better gradation in colours, reducing the banding. High dynamic range will give you a video more like the human eye sees, for example, retaining highlight details viewed outside through a window, while also preserving the shadow detail inside too.
The samples we've seen - both on the XZ2 and played back on an HDR Sony TV have been very impressive. This is worth getting excited about, although we've not had the time to really put it to test in the real world. Sony has had a problem with over-heating cameras in the past and we hope that the promise of 4K HDR holds true.
Beyond HDR, Sony has also tweaked its 960fps slow-motion camera. That was a highlight of the short-lived Xperia XZ1 and it uses the same sensor, Sony's 19-megapixel memory-stacked "Motion Eye" camera.
The new feature now is that 960fps video can be captured at full HD, again leveraging the core power that this phone offers. It's a short burst so you might struggle to capture that perfect moment, but again, it's very impressive when you look at the results.
Exactly how the camera performs beyond these two new features we can't yet say: there's fierce competition from dual-lens cameras like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 offering zoom and the LG V30 offering wide-angle shots, not forgetting the stellar performance of the Google Pixel 2.
We'll be thrashing this camera closer to launch to see how it performs, but during our preview sessions it wasn't final software, so we can't take it any further than that.
You give me good vibrations!
- Boosted stereo speaker performance
- Sony Dynamic Vibration System
- Hi-Res, LDAC, apt-X HD
The Sony Xperia XZ2 also boosts the speakers over the XZ1 (which you've probably not seen or heard…). Sony claims these are now 20 per cent louder, but also clearer in delivery.
There are two speakers in the front of the phone and the offer reasonable stereo separation from what we've heard, although Sony boasts that when watching movies the S-Force surround will give you a more immersive experience. We'd say use headphones if you really want boosted audio.
We mentioned there's no 3.5mm, but there is support for a wide range of Hi-Res formats, with Sony's favoured LDAC as well as apt-X HD. Bluetooth headphones should sound sweet.
But there's something else lurking in the belly of the XZ2 and that's the Dynamic Vibration System. This is an enhanced haptic implementation that Sony wants to use to make the feel of the phone more visceral. Essentially, it's a vibration engine that Sony wants you to use all the time.
Think of it like the vibration motors in a Dual Shock controller and you're on the right track. The Dynamic Vibration System can add vibration to anything you're watching - it can add vibration to games, movies or music, to give you a more involved feeling in the hand.
We're on the fence about it, if we're honest. We played a little Angry Birds and having the vibrations when you hit something is fun, but the enduring vibration as things continue to slip and slide around the game … we're just not sure, yet, it this is going to really boost the offering of this phone.
There are some very positive takeaways from the Sony Xperia XZ2 and there's a lot to talk about, which is a good thing. Those who repeatedly criticised the unchanging design (us included) will need to find something else to talk about, but there's a slight feeling that the shift could have been a little more dramatic - just look at the Xperia XA2's edge-to-edge glass.
The new display aspect is what you expect in a 2018 flagship and the quality looks pretty good from what we've seen so far, with the HDR boost very much on trend. HDR capture for that camera is a much bigger statement.
Running Android Oreo, with a number of minor tweaks from Sony, there's the feeling of something new from Sony Mobile in the Xperia XZ2.
It's almost a shame that this phone carries the derivative XZ2 name: with a completely new design, the only thing that really ties it to the XZ or the XZ1 is an ambitious camera.
The Sony Xperia XZ2 will be available for £699 SIM-free from April 2018. Pre-orders are now open and you can get a free PS4 with pre-orders, so click through to see the best Xperia XZ2 deals.
Originally published in February 2018.